Port Elizabeth – With both teams eager to make a strong impression, the Wales rugby tour is set for a rousing start when the visitors tackle the EP Kings at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday (7pm).
The Welsh Dragons will be sharpening their claws for the much more daunting task of taking on the Springboks in a two-test series, while the home players will be looking to stake a claim for berths in the starting line-up when the Currie Cup season gets under way in August.
Dan Lydiate will captain Wales in their opening game after recovering from a hamstring injury, and coach Warren Gatland is keen to see how his charges perform.
“It’s an opportunity to see a number of squad pull on the Wales jersey and represent their country and see how they handle the game and the pressure,” Gatland said.
“We know how tough the next few weeks are going to be and that starts on Tuesday, and we have to be prepared for a big game and hit the ground running. We were keen to have this match, to experience a short turn around and replicate what we will face at the World Cup next year.
“That preparation is well under way and Tuesday is a great opportunity for players who have impressed this season and at the trial to stake their claim on the international stage.”
Lydiate will lead a squad that includes all four uncapped players who have made the journey to South Africa.
Three of those players have been named in the starting XV, with Matthew Morgan lining up at fullback, Steven Shingler at inside centre and Jordan Williams on the wing.
They are joined in the backline by Cardiff Blues duo Alex Cuthbert and Cory Allen, as well as James Hook and Rhodri Williams at half back.
In the pack, Paul James has been named alongside Scott Baldwin and Rhodri Jones in the front row, with Jake Ball and Ian Evans in the second row. Lydiate is joined by Scarlets Josh Turnbull at flank with Dan Baker at No 8.
Meanwhile, new signing Hansie Graaff says the EP Kings will be anxious to make a huge statement as they look ahead to the Currie Cup Premier Division.
Graaff, formerly of the Sharks, is one of a number of new faces in a Kings team to that will face the Welsh.
“It is an exhibition match so there is no pressure on us, but we also do not want to look like fools,” Graaff, who will play at fullback, said.
“We are going out to try and make a huge statement to Wales and the other Currie Cup teams as well. I am positive that we will be well supported. We are smaller than Wales so we need a 16th man.”
After a 12-year absence from the top flight, the Kings return to the Currie Cup Premier Division on August 8 when they face Western Province at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Tuesday’s game against Wales is one of the three warm-up matches, the other two being against the Bulls on June 20 and the Sharks 15 on July 4.
The teams are: EP Kings: Lizo Gqoboka, Edgar Marutlulle, Charl du Plessis, Darron Nell (capt), Cameron Lindsay, Thembelani Bholi, Devin Oosthuizen, Paul Schoeman, Kevin Luiters, George Whitehead, Scott van Breda, Shane Gates, Ronnie Cooke, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Hansie Graaff. Replacements: Albe de Swardt, BG Uys, Simon Kerrod, Steven Cummins, Stefan Willemse, Jaco Grobler, Dwayne Jenner, Ntabeni Dukisa.
Wales: Matthew Morgan (Ospreys), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), Steven Shingler (Scarlets), Jordan Williams (Scarlets), James Hook (Perpignan), Rhodri Williams (Scarlets), Paul James (Bath), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (capt) (Racing Metro), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Dan Baker (Ospreys). Replacements: Matthew Rees (Cardiff Blues), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), George North (Northampton), Liam Williams (Scarlets). – Sapa